OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – The plane that has been chartered to bring hundreds of Canadians stuck in the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak back to Canada is headed for Vietnam.
Canada’s foreign affairs minister says once in Hanoi, the aircraft and crew will wait for work from the federal government that it’s been given the green light to enter the quarantine zone in the Wuhan area of China.
Reports have suggested repatriation efforts will take place later this week, on Thursday.
“The reason why we staged [in Hanoi] is because usually you get the permission to enter the airspace in China within hours, so based on this practice from our colleagues, we know that we need to have a plane ready, fuelled, and with the crew on board to be ready to fly in just when we get the permission,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Tuesday.
Evacuation flights are only allowed to enter the airspace during the night, he added.
Meanwhile, the federal government has been in touch with the people who were included on the first manifest for repatriation efforts.
“My overall message to Canadians, we’ll work for everyone,” Champagne said. “I know there’s been talks about Canadians citizens, permanent residents. Obviously the indication we got from the officials in China was that a Canadian citizen would be allowed to leave, and to maintain family unity with respect to children.”
Foreign nationals are being allowed to leave the country, unless they show symptoms. The federal government said it has advocated for family unity, and has been able to come to an agreement with Beijing to repatriate permanent residents who are the primary caregiver to a minor.
Health Minister says if people show symptoms they wil not be allowed to board the flight. Coronavirus symptoms are similar to the common cold/flu. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and fever. #cdnpoli
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) February 4, 2020
This does, however, mean that families may still be split up if parents hold different nationalities or status in Canada.
“I saw the news, I saw the families’ stories. Obviously, everyone wants to do their best to bring all these people home,” Champagne said. “I understand their attachment to Canada, they want to come back, and I feel the compassion to bring them. However, I have to work with the Chinese health authorities who have been very clear that those who will be allowed to board are foreign nationals who travel on foreign passports.”
A second plane has also been chartered in case there are more Canadians wanting to come back to Canada than there are seats on the first aircraft.
Champagne notes not everyone who has requested assistance to leave may actually end up accepting a place on the planes secured by the government.
“As you appreciated, when we contact people, some people decide to come, some tell us they don’t want to come anymore, and if I look at best practices in terms of what happens with other repatriation, the number of no-shows is about 20 per cent,” he said.